Ask RTH: What Does Hamilton Need to Become a Centre of Innovation?

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 05, 2010

What does our city need to become a centre of innovation and new business creation?

Of course I've got some ideas about this - a regulatory environment that makes it easy to start a business and adapt a property, a culture of entrepreneurship, an open network of creative business and technical cofounders, a pool of angel investors and venture capitalists to give nascent businesses a starting push, well-defined pathways from local schools into business, and so on.

But what shape do these pieces take, how do they fit together, how can we bootstrap them into existence, and what is still missing?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 10:27:36

Obvious one, stop spending our energy and money servicing green fields when we've already got a great city built and waiting to be revitalized!

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By Pier8 (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 10:48:42

Centres for innovation are always centres for something specific – automotive, computer gaming, greentech, logistics, grape growing & wine making, etc. No city can become a centre for everything. This is the idea behind all economic development strategies based on "clusters of innovation". Hamilton has identified several clusters, some of which will probably never amount to anything, but some of them will. If you look at Waterloo Region, companies like Research in Motion didn't appear out of thin air. There was a longstanding commitment to IT (a specialty of the University of Waterloo) that has spun out a dynamic industry cluster. It's hard to forecast Hamilton's future or identify the industries that will flourish. But where "winners" are emerging, it would seem reasonable that they should be supported and promoted, and that there will be opportunities for additional growth of local companies who can be integrated into their supply chain.

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By PapaBear (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 11:01:14

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 11:41:47

I think innovation centres like this are to be had by everyone, not just Hamilton. As a progressive society, we should allot budgets to see these innovation centres get what they need. Municipally, provincially and federally.

Right now, the burden is mostly on universities to do a lot of the engineering legwork for eco, political, medical, logistics innovations.

I love the idea of buildings in a city brewing innovation and advancing surrounding communities. A video game analogy: +5 to surrounding businesses and people.

I think of it like you might think of local farms - and how it is usually better to get your food from your surroundings. +5 Health. The same could/might be said for innovative technology. I am extremely excited about iF and I really hope that Hamiltonians take note of how important it is that we all nurture iF and projects like it.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2010 at 12:35:33

I fundamentally disagree about focusing on "key" industries. The healthiest economies always diversify. Single-industry towns are notoriously unstable for obvious reasons. I highly recommend "The Nature of Economies" by Jane Jacobs on the subject.

As for what we do need - I'd definitely say, first and foremost, some serious loosening of the regulatory framework. Let people do things, because throwing a giant wet blanket over the city and then waiting for condo and hotel developers to rescue us plainly isn't working.

Some other suggestions: - Our town makes very little money from energy (homes, business, transport etc) and spends an awful lot on it. Every bit of that we can cut or generate ourselves sets us ahead economically, politically and environmentally in a very serious way. And every bit we do now puts us way ahead of the rest of the region.

  • Take green spaces seriously. There's another story behind the success of the Waterloo region - the parks, gardens, valleys, forests - it works very hard to be a beautiful place to live and raise kids. People care about this stuff, and showing a constant and callous disregard for parks and greenspaces isn't going to encourage people to locate somewhere.

  • Take poor people seriously. An unbelievable number of "creative people" are poor - artists, writers, musicians, students, entrepreneurs, activists, tradespeople and workers of all sorts... the creation of any successful urban space requires tons of people with very little to spend. This means cheap rent. Cheap rent, and cheap rent. Nearly every single "success story" gentrification has to offer (Harlem, Haight, Queen West, James North etc) stars with an area where people can live cheaply enough to devote a significant chunk of their time to something that's creative but not immediately (or reliably) profitable.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:20:12

I hardly know the ins and outs of civic planning and budgeting, so this may sound absurd. Or, it could sound blatantly obvious and in progress.

I would work hard to shop current city lands -- brownfields specifically, around to specific industries/ organizations that met the criteria of what we deem as having innovative potential. Such as green energies. My guess is that there are ideas and innovative companies with significant potential, but are struggling to find a home-base and get off the ground.

I would all-but gift them the property, help with loans and/or government fund acquisition to make the property ready and offer minimal lease/ rental opportunities for a given period of time. The goal would be to foster a prosperous entity that provides an ROI/ employment. But, provides the safety net of an enhanced property if the entity happens to fail.

Not sure if that makes any sense, but the bases is selective subsidizing, I guess.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:33:21

It's a cold rainy day and I'm in a cynical and sour mood after spending the morning touring all 4 of the most mentioned stadium locations. With that background here is my answer Ryan:

A Revolution.

This city is stuck in the mud and spinning it's wheels to get out only to go deeper into the mire. Dynamite is required.

When I lighten up I'll come back to this thread. It will be a great and much needed discussion and thank you for starting it.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:39:40

@Udustrial Good post. Just to clarify -- since, on the surface and in comparison my post conflicts with your diverse industry notion. I agree with the diverse economy -- god knows we are a testament to what happens when most of your eggs are in one basket. What I'm proposing is that we help this diversity along a little. A bit of an incubation strategy....since, not development stages vary depending on species/ industry.

I would also actively court 'intellectual' and creative entities. That would serve to diversify the economy and act as a student retention program. After recently reading about the importance of leveraging the talent fostered in our local post-secondary institutions, it seems very important that initiative actively seek to minimize the migration to other communities (well, to Toronto, more accurately.)

(Hope this doesn't come back on me....but, I work at a company that sort of fits that criteria -- and would be a great fit in downtown Hamilton. Alas, we're in the 'burbs.)

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By Freedom is good (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:42:19

What does our city need to become a centre of innovation and new business creation?

This would help...

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:42:57

@mrjanitor Remember...stadium locations, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. There is some subjectiveness to that debate. And, let's also not forget that cities hardly live and die by the locations of their stadiums. (Just an attempt to take some of the edge off!!)

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:44:22

For hamilton to become a centre of business and innovation? Get located closer to Toronto. Look what that does for Mississauga, which doesn't seem to have any other recognizable assets.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-11-05 12:44:48

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2010 at 13:45:51

Like too much in "The Great Hamilton Remediation Project", it's the simplest of things that will make Hamilton great.

Hamilton and especially 'Lifer' Hamiltonians are FIXATED on the mega-project. Just look at the list of mega-projects that Hamiltonians love:

  • The Linc & Red Hill Valley Expressways
  • Jackson Square
  • Aerotropolis The First
  • Stadium
  • Aerotropolis The Expansion Pack

What do all of these things have in common?

They are all bolt-ons on top of the same two fundamental problems...

1/ The commonly held image that Hamilton is a stinky, nasty, dirty, crime-ridden, filthy, armpit of a city.

2/ That you can't get anywhere in Hamilton because the streets make no sense and you're probably going to be going the wrong way.

If you want to increase innovation, do the following things:

A/ Clean up the city... not just "less Tim Hortons cups in drifting shoals near the fences" but serious stuff like "fake wood panelling from the 70s is not an appropriate street-facing material for your building - fix it NOW" -- ie: lets make the lower city look like a place where innovation can happen - there are thousands of empty storefronts where cottage industry could operate... rather than the boarded up pseudo vacant mess where it is more cost effective for the landlord to keep it empty than to rent it out.

B/ Clean up the highway facing image of Heavy Industry Hamilton... much harder to do quickly but a pedestrian bridge over the QEW is a very small contribution to the "preview of Dante's Hell" that is the north side of Burlington Street. I wish I had an easy solution to this.

C/ No More One Way Streets... if the street is physically less than 12' from curb to curb then it's a candidate for one way, otherwise, it's a two-way street. DO THIS NOW. IMMEDIATELY.

D/ Appropriate Lane Widths... Why is it that on all of our inner city highways^W one-way-streets the lines are painted at only 6" wider than the track of the 24-30 wheeled trucks that hurtle along at 60-80km/h? Have you tried to drive eastbound along Main as it crosses the 403? Those aren't lanes, they're tightropes.

Once you do those things... none of which cost as much as "The Stadium"... it will be 1000x easier to bring customers to Hamilton and it will start to change the image of Hamilton from the hellmouth to the place where hipsters innovate.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2010 at 14:53:30

Honestly, I hate to be the conservative blowhard here, but I really think lower property taxes would go a long way to get more businesses into the city. But that means no more megaprojects without the Province and the Feds footing the lion's share of the bill, and I really want the LRT.

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2010 at 14:53:37

Re-reading my own comment, I find that I'm fixating on the "make our streets look less crappy" and I'm missing some key piece of information...

What is the reason for the preponderance of semi or pseudo vacant first floor commercial / streetwall buildings?

  • Why is so much "conversion" to residential happening in a commercial first floor streetwall?

  • Why are there requirements for street-facing facades in the core (See The Cottage fiasco for details) and not in other obviously commercial districts like Barton from James to Kenilworth

  • If an otherwise rentable property is vacant, we know there is a rebate. What are the requirements for proving that an ongoing attempt to rent the property is happening?

  • How many vacant commercial properties are also toxic waste dumps. Bet it is more than zero.

  • When is it reasonable for the city to step in and put fully serviced land to better use? For example, the old Westinghouse Canada head office building that has been empty and often not sealed against the elements -- it could be fabulous space for creative / engineering / innovative hipster types -- I'd rather have the city become a serious scale landlord than look at that empty building.


I'd love to hear other ideas on what can be done - especially if it's small scale / cheap / not a mega-project.

~~Myrcurial, an Intentional Hamiltonian who hasn't given up yet.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 16:06:06

While I agree with whoever above said the city should diversify their economy (essentially don't put all your eggs in one basket) I also agree that the city cannot become a centre of innovation for everything, you have to identify and nurture priority industries, and that will become your centre of innovation (and might, as a result, make up a significant part of your economy).

I think the balancing act is in monitoring the size of the centre for excellence, to ensure it doesn't get "too big".

Proposed areas where Hamilton can be a centre for excellence (and who I believe is currently working in that field in Hamilton):

Remote Surgeries (HHSC, Mac)
Next generation automotive technology (Mac Innovation Park)
Steel manufacturing (Stelco, Dofasco, Mac and Mohawk)
Nuclear Medicine (McMaster, and specifically their nuclear reactor, Mohawk, HHS)

While we're at it, why don't we talk about something creative? Art, music, something that dovetails well with all the galleries and support the arts are getting here. What about getting OCAD, or a similar educational institution to build a Hamilton campus? OCAD is desperately gobbling up all the space they can get in Toronto...

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 17:02:34

I'll piggyback off of a couple ideas which have been suggested.

I agree that in order for serious change to occur, Hamilton's image must change. Cleaning up graffiti and picking up litter is not nearly enough. Abandoned and run down buildings need to be torn down or made to look good and ready for business.

I think that there should be one main through road be left one way in each east/west direction. All other roads should be 2 way.

In terms of industries which Hamilton could specialize in, I think Health Care in general would be a good one. It doesn't just have to be Nuclear Medicine or Remote Surgery. Hamilton could be the health care centre or hub of Ontario. They could provide encouragement for head offices such as the LHINs, professional colleges (physicians, nurses, therapists etc) head offices, etc to all locate in Hamilton.

There is so much that could be done.

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By Ty Webb (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 20:39:05

Shutter the steel mills, slowly start rehabilitating the land, get rid of the pollution, the stigma, the visual blight, and the inevitable decline of a business now controlled by foreign interests who won't give our work force a fair shake, especially with a devalued U.S. dollar.
Concentrate on 'creative class' jobs, higher paying, more educated workforce, who will spend money on arts, culture, restaurants, etc. helping spin off more jobs. Hamilton should emulate Parkdale in Toronto, which plays up it's gritty image to be a hipster haven, attracting a second wave of rich wannabes with money to burn. One Drake Hotel type spot in the right neighbourhood could go a long way. James Street and Locke Street are already well underway in this direction.
Serious regional transit is very important as well, having fast and reliable routes to Toronto, GTA, K-W, etc can position Hamilton as a great option for people wanting a house with character in a walkable city rather than a generic subdivision lifestyle. The low housing prices will attract these people and with enough of them the prices in the core will rise up to equal the mountain and the burbs.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 21:00:44

I work at US Steel soooo... I'd like to modify your first point! How about making Hamilton a center of excellence by spearheading zero emission steel making. Zero emission steel would create jobs for research scientists, engineers, skilled trades and semi-skilled labour. Zero emission steel also leverages a great deal of the technical expertise that already exist in Hamilton, such as the many metallurgical and material science engineers plus the many fabrication and machining shops in the area. Research, experimentation, pilot plants, upgrades and conversions = economic activity. Since this is a brainstorming session I won't limit this or any idea as impossible or impractical, let's stay positive and think about the possibilities instead.

I'm feeling a lot less cynical now, good naps are great.

Comment edited by mrjanitor on 2010-11-05 20:05:57

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 21:04:52

BTW, so many really good ideas on this thread. Wide angle strategic ideas and ground level tactical ideas, everything here so far is worth discussing.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 23:53:17

I agree, this is a really productive brainstorming session.

I hope this goes further than just brainstorming, maybe refine/shortlist some ideas and get them presented to someone.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2010 at 12:52:10

Hamilton can change & become a Centre For Innovation.
(But only if it wants to change. ;)

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By Carnival (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2010 at 13:16:54

What Does Hamilton Need to Become a Centre of Innovation?- Stop listening to snake oil salesmen! There has been a rash of magic elixirs and pixie dust thinking in Hamilton. Innovation industries as well as being creative require great amount of planning , dedication, and HARD WORK. Enough with the Horse Drawn Caravans that have plaguing this city.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 06, 2010 at 13:57:22

There are a few positive developments taking place right now that may help. The Innovation Factory just opened up with a mandate to help create and assist startups and small and medium sized enterprises in various sectors. They'll offer advice, mentoring, access to investors, etc. Eight is another interesting initiative to make the city a leader in interactive digital media - several institutions including Mac and Mohawk are participating, and I just learned that IBM has recently joined in as well.

Ryan, you started off with a few ideas: "a regulatory environment that makes it easy to start a business and adapt a property, a culture of entrepreneurship, an open network of creative business and technical cofounders, a pool of angel investors and venture capitalists to give nascent businesses a starting push, well-defined pathways from local schools into business, and so on." I'd argue that we already have a regulatory environment that makes it extremely easy to start a business, and there are plenty of places to do it. We also have a culture of entrepreneurship, to a pretty significant degree; however, most entrepreneurs are not starting innovative businesses but are more service- and retail-focused.

We definitely need better networks, more access to capital, and improvements to our ability to keep graduates of our colleges and universities in the city. To this list I would add:

  1. Affordable places from which to operate a business (office space, commercial/industrial space, etc.) I think we do pretty well on this score.
  2. Affordable housing. I think we do great on this.
  3. Compelling entertainment options (and by that I don't mean a stadium in an innovation park).
  4. More opportunity for smaller players. There's a definite old boys network culture here in the city and it stifles new and young companies by preferentially awarding contracts and business to long-established firms.
  5. Access to clients.
  6. Vision and visionaries.
  7. Access to advanced technology that you don't necessarily have to own, e.g. the ability to access machinery that can do precision manufacturing. Entrepreneurs in Shenzhen greatly benefit from access to facilities that are manufacturing electronics and other advanced products.
  8. Access to research; commercialization of research. Better partnerships between McMaster and the private sector are key. Eight is a good start.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2010 at 00:28:33

Slodrive, I don't really see any contradiction. The city providing brownfields and office space as grants, rather than cash, would solve both the derelict issue and the grant funding issue far cheaper than either alone. Probably the best idea on here.

The issue is opening up space so that people can actually use it solves one of the most crucial issues: space. Gardens, workshops, offices, computer labs, storefronts, homes - all of these things are far more necessary for actual innovation than empty storefronts, buildings and properties.

Free (the) brownfields.

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 06:11:22

@ adrian: "More opportunity for smaller players. There's a definite old boys network culture here in the city and it stifles new and young companies by preferentially awarding contracts and business to long-established firms."

More than that, it can breed a similar mindset among younger upstarts, leading to an exclusionary and nepotistic network at the grassroots level – a survival strategy, perhaps, but one that emulates and in time seems destined to replace the old boys' network.

Also, Hamilton could stand to co-mingle with a little Guelph DNA. With the right perspective, even something as mundane as infrastructure becomes more passionate, purposeful, reflective, engaging -

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 08:41:10

More than that, it can breed a similar mindset among younger upstarts, leading to an exclusionary and nepotistic network at the grassroots level – a survival strategy, perhaps, but one that emulates and in time seems destined to replace the old boys' network.

Interesting. Do you see this happening right now? How do you think this behavior can be modified? How do we widen the tent and keep it wide?

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 12:08:36

How about a liaison office at city hall for start-ups of small and medium sized businesses. I'm not talking about a center to pick-up pamphlets and send the entrepreneur off to manage the maze on their own. I envision a group in the city whose job it is is to actively manage a start-up through the maze of red-tape, roadblocks and hazards. Here's how it could work:

-Offer the start-up the service and encourage them to register for the program

-Once registered a Liaison Officer is assigned to that project

-The officer meets with the entrepreneur and determines exactly what permits, licenses, documentation and approvals are required from the city and even the Provence for the project to go ahead

-A report is prepared for the entrepreneur giving the time line and budget needed to obtain the approvals etc. required before the opening date. The person can now decide if they have the funding and time required to proceed. It is at this point they learn whether their idea is feasible or affordable. There could be some unexpected issues that they learn about.

-The assigned officer is now the person responsible to ensure that those requirements materialize. The officer will obviously have to work very closely with the start-up to obtain any money required for any permits, inspections or anything else. The idea is that the officer is a one-stop shopping point for the start-up, no running to this department then that department

-The officer will have to have broad knowledge of the city bureaucracy and various codes such as health, fire and building. If it is decided that the city will assist with Provincial issues the person will have to be versed on those as well. City staffers will be directed to give the officers priority when approached for any direction and opinions for the start-up

-The idea is to have everything for the entrepreneur in place to ensure his/her success.

-A good qualification for this position could be someone who has started a business here in Hamilton before

-The officer is to be the start-ups spearhead, cutting through and managing the red-tape monster while being an advocate and mentor. The officer will have to be passionate about enabling the success of others and be relentless in getting the answers and commitments needed

-The officer will manage city issues such as scheduling health department inspections, fire inspections and building department inspections

This one stop shopping concept will allow start-ups to learn if an plan is feasible before any property is purchased or leased. If an idea proves feasible the person now understands the costs needed to proceed with permits. Building, health and fire should be co-ordinated at this point to provide opinions if the property is already under the owners care. Now the person understands what renovations are required and can proceed to get any estimates needed. All of this is to make things happen quickly and painlessly for a small to medium sized business.

Comment edited by mrjanitor on 2010-11-07 11:11:51

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 12:08:44

Was speaking hypothetically as to what might arise from constrained opportunities – a niche ecosystem that would presumably look after its own as a means of fostering growth that is otherwise not openly supported. And if that's the case, I'm not sure what the cure is, short of younger generations being quicker to evolve and in some cases more sensitive to market shifts. If younger entrepreneurs are aggressively innovative by nature, it might have the effect of rendering the "established" advantage of older players largely moot. If not, it's conceivable that my hypothetical model of what you could define loosely as "generational coziness" would continue to be the norm. Maybe a solution starts with networking outside of your comfort zone. I don't know.

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 16:55:04

Unfortunately I think that all Hamilton needs is "time". In my opinion, James North is the seed of change. It is smack dab in the centre of the downtown and is finally bringing young dynamic people to the city. Particularly of note is that government and politicians had nothing to do with it. But all the cliches apply: Rome wasn't built in a day, slow and steady wins the race, easy come/easy go. I fully expect to visit Hamilton in 20 years and be amazed.

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 06:23:42

Glen Murray is in at Mac's Burlington's campus on Wednesday to talk about "Establishing A Culture of Innovation: What It Will Take To Compete Globally."

Interesting that he points to the larger dynamic. If you're a local entrepreneur and your business is not immutably super-local, why would you be satisfied with the local fishbowl? Dubious analogy: For every musician who makes a living playing the local club circuit, surely there are dozens more who take session gigs, play out of town, gain viral rep and sales via the internet, etc.

Might not be something that municipal government is positioned to assist on, but rather (as mrjanitor has suggested) a case where the entrepreneur can look to a local liaison org for help with navigating channels and identifying grant programs at provincial and federal level that might be a boon to success. Maybe an arm of the CoC?

Bottom line? The marketplace isn't going to get less challenging anytime soon. The strongest and smartest will find a way.

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 09:39:41

Since innovation now takes place in the context of a global marketplace, it's critical that we have bold visionary thinking at a national level, eg:

Money and innovation are not necessarily synonymous, however. When five universities (representing 5.4% of the Canadian university population, but attracting a third of research grants) made a pitch for the bulk of Canada's research funding, B. Mario Pinto, SFU's VP of Research pointed out ( that publication impact – that is, probability of work being cited – was similar across all Canadian universities.

What's more, Pinto illustrates, scholars are differently able to leverage grant investments – there's no definitive correlation. His chart of data from the 2008 edition of research universities of the year, McMaster had the seventh highest financial input but fifth highest research output indicators; Waterloo had the eleventh highest financial input but seventh highest research output indicators; UBC had the ninth highest financial input but third highest research output indicators. Queens, meanwhile, had the third highest financial input but tenth highest research output indicators; U of Montreal had the fourth highest financial input but sixth highest research output indicators.

Another dubious analogy: The great independent filmmaker making things happen on their own terms with their debut on a pauper's budget, later to receive an imposing sum and the corresponding expectation of delivering a blockbuster, for which the studio offers constructive input on the final cut.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 11:52:53

Tartan, your comments are consistently insightful, interesting and well-researched. I think you should write an article on this subject and get it posed here on RTH. Submissions.

Comment edited by administrator adrian on 2010-11-08 10:53:13

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 12:28:44

Thanks for the link and the vote of confidence, Adrian. Means a lot coming from someone whose own work covers those bases and then some. I consider myself a little too ADD for essays, but I'll certainly keep it in mind.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 20:43:06

From 2000-01 to 2009-10, program spending (free health, free education, free social services, etc) in Ontario increased by 76.6%. In that same period of time, Ontario's GDP, the amount of stuff we create by going to work, increased by only 25.0%.

Therefore, for the lest ten years, people in Ontario have been consuming more than we have been producing. The result, plant closures, increased poverty, higher personal debt levels, etc. We are allowing other nations to make what we consume, instead of doing it ourselves.

If the people of Hamilton want a more innovative, or just higher paying and more active economy, we have to accept reality. Reality is that jobs are the result of needs. If we don't have needs because we allow the government to give us free stuff, why do we need to work? Without hunger, there is no need to get off our ass and find food.

As for how this idea can make Hamilton a centre of innovation, all we have to do is look back over our history. Before we had the welfare state, people were forced to work if they wanted to survive. The result was a booming economy filled with new industries.

"Necessity is the mother of invention"

Unless we reduce the safety net of the government and create more neccessity, we won't have the level of inventions and innovation we want. Stress = strength.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 08, 2010 at 21:06:17

The problem with seeking to compete globally is that it entails hugely inflated costs. A lot of work goes into pretending that "in the new global age, location is irrelevant," but it doesn't take a cocker-spaniel to know that those numbers just can't add up. As someone who does this stuff for a living, trust me - it doesn't work like that.

Legal absurdities which heavily subsidize global transportation networks and then force neighbours to compete on terms much like global competitors. If we want to be able to really move forward locally, we need to find ways to integrate based on good old fashioned local proximity.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 21:27:19

From 2005-09, government grants to the city of Hamilton have jumped by 50.7%. In that same period of time, property taxes paid by people and business located in Hamilton, have only gone up by 17.4%. One might say, wow, that's great, more free money for Hamilton. But look at the result... Plant closures, layoffs, and more poverty. Hamilton's economy is worse than it was in 2005 even though we get more free money from other levels of government.

In the late nineties, when the the province and the Feds cut back on free money, Hamilton's economy was great. Lots of jobs, lots of steel production, etc. Since that time, both Hamilton and Ontario have been the recipient of more freebies and all this money has done is to kill good paying jobs. Without the NECESSITY to have to pay our own way, there is no need to create high paying jobs.

Jobs are like callouses, they only grow when there is a stress to create them.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2010 at 21:59:18

2005, 21.5% of Hamilton city revenue from other levels of government
2009, 25.0% of Hamilton city revenue from other levels of government.

How can we be innovative as a city if we look ever more to the government to pay our bills? Where is the stress to force us to be creative? Any personal trainer will tell you, without effort, results will not follow. If the result we want is a strong and healthy economy, don't we need to do some work?

Halton region is one of the richest in Canada. Curiously enough, their motto is this..."Absque Labore Nihil" or "Nothing Without Effort"

In contrast, Hamilton's motto is this... "Together Aspire, Together Achieve".

I don't know about you, but Hamilton's motto is much more inspiring, while Halton's seems depressing. Unfortunately, Halton's motto is also correct. Nothing in life is achieved without effort. By embracing reality and the truth, rather than Obama sounding cliches, Halton has created a prosperous and healthy community, while Hamilton struggles under ever growing poverty and job losses.

It's time for Hamilton to embrace reality.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted November 09, 2010 at 08:13:26

Lies, damn lies and statistics. Above posts.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted November 09, 2010 at 11:15:20

This is only a small part of it, but what about making the infamous James-to-Mary block of King the example of how to do this -- intentionally create multiple, easily accessible nodes for creative businesses within the core by repurposing existing buildings, and allow for some natural development alongside it

How about starting with intentionally creating attractively priced small spaces designated for some of these startups - with five-year financial incentives from the city for the businesses who want to locate there - like the four vacant junk-filled stories above Urban Alley, or the newly renovated area above Cheapies? Or whoever owns the building on the northeast corner of King and James - these can all be small spaces where multiple small businesses get their start.

Barton has a lot of live-work potential, and entire stretches that could be creatively adapted - what about rental apartments that include free storefront space, contingent on a business/gallery/studio actually going in that space?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 09, 2010 at 17:30:48

Another awesome way to kick-start innovation, especially in very low-income areas would be to look into commercial waste policies. As someone who visits a lot of offices, I know how often things like computers, copiers and desks go out - and as someone who's volunteered often, I know how much even a few of those could be worth. The same could be said of a lot of industrial machinery (especially things like sewing machines or power tools).

In-kind donations cut red-tape like there's no tomorrow, as well as reducing waste physically. Coupled with grants of free or cheap space, they would allow people to start creating things without the enormous capital outlay usually required. And if we're talking about experimental, small, community-based non-profits groups and the like, there's really no reason they need to be paying full price for such capital.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2010 at 11:41:14

@A Smith

I could make money off of a radioactive cesspool if I had multiple expressways running through it leading into the heart of Toronto.

Halton succeeds by sucking up every connection into and out of the city, while being unlivable for lower-classes because of being designed for car-culture. So they don't have to pay for social services or transit, and they get all the commercial benefit of Canada's greatest city, while profiting heavily off of the province's expressways that they make unusable for those of us further down the line.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 10, 2010 at 12:18:47

I agree 100% Pxtl.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2010 at 02:54:04

Pxtl >> I could make money off of a radioactive cesspool if I had multiple expressways running through it leading into the heart of Toronto.

Halton has ONE free public highway, the other is a privately operated, pay per use, toll road. Hamilton has 4 free public highways, the 403, QEW, LINC and RHVP. All of these roads connect to Toronto.

Guelph, a city with ZERO free public highways and farther away from Toronto, had property taxes increase by 35% between 2004-08. In that same time frame, Hamilton's increased by 19.2%.

>> Halton succeeds by sucking up every connection into and out of the city, while being unlivable for lower-classes because of being designed for car-culture

The converse would be that Hamilton fails because it subsidizes money losing mass transit. I agree.

However, one way that Hamilton/Ontario governments could help the economy, without hurting poor people, would be to increase cash welfare payments.

This would allow more money to find it's way to businesses that compete for profits and less to workers in government funded industries, such as health care and education. The result would be a more dynamic and competitive workforce.

We all know that Hamilton's economy is going through tough times. The answer is NOT to look to politicians to create the next great idea, whether LRT, Pan Am stadium, or McMaster Innovation Centre.

Rather, we should look to the free market and entrepreneurs. We can do this by pushing for lower taxes and even higher cash welfare for the poor. Both of these pro market reforms will provide fuel for greater innovation and prosperity. Central planning, which is what most of what government spends money on, doesn't create wealth, it destroys it.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2010 at 15:20:11

This has been pointed out in a few other posts. You can't expect innovative, hi-tech companies to relocate to Hamilton until the infrastructure will support these kinds of companies. You can only go so far in putting fail safe technology into a building before the cost becomes prohibitive, & it simply makes sense to go elsewhere.

Couple this lack of interest in current infrastructure & a lack of interest in LRT, better public transit, better city planning, & assisting the poor, & generally cleaning up the City, there is created an appearance of Not Wanting outside, or even inside investment.

Power outages, phone & computer failures, flooding, water & sewage services out of date & compromised. This will not attract hi-tech companies, or any sort of long term investment.

These listings are observations made by me or people that i know who work or have worked in these areas of the GHA.

Dundurn area: Frequent power, phone & computer outages year round. The area does get a lot of lightening strikes. Maybe it's time to put services underground?

Ancaster area: (The Industrial Mall & Central) Frequent long power outages,& brown outs. Sometimes long term, but more frequently power outs that occur several times in a minute. (Computer killers) Situations of low or no water pressure.

Stoney Creek & area: Frequent serious flooding. This area drastically needs total overhaul of the current system, & the main water, sewage, storm over flow, & drainage facilities.

Hess St. area: Major flooding occurred twice in quick succession several years ago due to failure of very old mains. After the 2nd. flood, many could not obtain insurance. Who's to say it won't happen again in the Downtown area?

The Woodward Ave. treatment plant has been blamed for much of the damage on many occasions in East Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Instead of repeatedly paying companies & residents for damages, why not update, replace, or put in a new plant to handle what Woodward Ave can no longer handle? How long can this situation go on???!

Red Hill Creek area: Repeated flooding during heavy rain events. Damage to neighbouring properties, & to the expressway. (Are there any solutions? It should have never been built.)
A major traffic artery that cannot withstand a heavy rain is not an asset to any company or person relying on it.

East Central Hamilton: Frequent power outs & phone/computer problems, along with low water pressure from a very old system. The area is also in dire need of improvement, & assistance to residents, & low income people. This area is not what people think of when they want to come & open a business!

The Industrial area: (Burlington St. etc.)Better for larger companies, but it's still relying on some very old infrastructure. Burlington St. has been listed by CAA as one of the 10 worst roads in Ontario. Will the trend continue in that area & other heavy traffic streets in that area will be neglected to the point that they become a liability?

Then there is that 'quirky' attitude @ City Hall. In recent years Hamilton has in one way or another said "No." to such diverse companies as The Pearl Company, Canada Packers, Famous People Players, & probably 1000's of other potential investors in the GHA that we never heard about in the media. Outright denial, greatly increased taxes, hidden taxes on purchase, or a ton of bi-law fines. What does it matter?.. It's still "No!"

Until that hostile environment toward investment, esp. inner city development stops, nothing is going to happen in the Inner City. (How long until the next election, & will that help?)
Nobody wants to invest in a place that seems to make up the rules as it goes along. There are plenty of other places that don't require companies to bow & scrape to open a place of business that will employ local people at a decent wage. Why don't "We" seem to want that?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:21:31

Really? I live in Westdale and I think we get maybe one power outage a year. That's not exactly "frequent".

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By newsteve (registered) | Posted November 12, 2010 at 23:36:47

To become a centre of Innovation, we need to focus on our Centre. I'm talking downtown. Downtown has great buildings, lots of people, multiple amenities and one of the greatest urban public squares in a Canadian city: Gore Park. Sadly, there are two 5-lane superhighways running right through it. The centre of our city is ripe for new business and new people, but it is easy to miss with Main and King shuffling cars through it all the time.

Infrastructure speaks volumes. We need to make Hamilton a destination and just a passageway to something beyond it. Focus on making the core livable, breathable, walkable, and the people will come (and bring their innovative ideas with them).

No one wants to live next to a 5-lane highway. Turn those streets back to two-way or at least slow them down and watch what happens.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted November 15, 2010 at 00:10:41

Lotta great ideas. The ones i like best are the problem busting things like addressing red tape, taxes, etc. These are also the cheapest and fastest as no building/ little money is required. I like to call this the power of negative thinking - the first job of any renovator is to remove useless crap and unneeded surfaces to 'see what you've really up against'. The problem is that folks don't like such negative thinking because it involves criticism. One needs criticizers to identify the bad stuff.

Folks also fear what will happen if regulatory crap is removed. The NIMBY thing. Do we live and let live or do we insist on using the club of gummerment to keep people in line. I lean toward the former but there's a lot of selfish people around.

I also lean toward Undustrial's view that without so much regulation/ old boy stuff/ city hall bumbling/ Spectator judgementalism, etc., that our local folks will naturally find something interesting to do with themselves. We can't predict what pearl will grow from a grain of sand. But you gotta keep gummerment away from the grains of sand! Exception is horn blowing which our new mayor should excel in.

As for the more positive ideas such as cleaning up/fixing up, since these involve money in a constrained financial environment, we have to understand that we must utilize marginalized resources to keep costs down. In a city that needs so much, why do we pay people to sit at home? This sacred cow needs attending to but A. Smith's observations, which may seem one dimensional at times, are not being given their due. He makes a valid point.

Finally, despite my Scottish reluctance to spend money, Hamilton needs some excitement, something exciting that can be made for not too much but will give a positive image that transcends our problems. Our harbour and escarpment are obvious focii. Why do we not make these exciting? There must be a hundred possibilities. Real life climbing wall. Zip line from the old Tamahac down to Mac?? Skating on the bay - poorly done at present. Skating trail like St. Donat in PQ. Uli's stairs are one grain of sand that is already a pearl, imo. Little cost. Big potential (lost for us sleepy Canuks that allowed US liability rules to enter Canada.)

Someone needs to blow the cobwebs outta this joint. If we don't see any action soon, I hope we can make some noise about it.

Comment edited by bobinnes on 2010-11-14 23:20:55

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted November 15, 2010 at 11:54:05

I thought it would be worthwhile to summarize the above ideas. I'll post at my website as a way of bringing more attention to this thread. Hope i didn't miss any.

Ryan, would it be possible to eliminate the "Recent Blog Entries" as a separate category -- I almost missed this important discussion altogether (happens when I'm busy/ distracted). What does it refer to anyway? Is it different than using your 'submit' link?


  • stop greenfield development

  • focus the innovation center

  • game points for health, local food, innovators?

  • diversity, energy conservation, green spaces,

  • cheap rent

  • selective subsidizing

  • dynamite city hall!

  • court intellectuals, creatives

  • clean up, eliminate one way,

  • lower property taxes

  • residential units? face-the-street? toxic cleanup, city to rent biz units

  • Remote Surgery, automotive tech, Steel tech, Nuclear Medicine, OCAD

  • Health care center

  • shutter steel, "gritty" spinoff aka Parkdale, regional transit,

  • Steel Research,

  • Hamilton must want the change

  • Stop listening to snake oil salesmen

  • Innovation Factory, Eight

  • Affordability, Entertainment, Access to clients, money, research, tech, visionaries

  • import dna (brains)

  • liaison officer / one stop

  • James North = seed of change

  • Glen Murray presents Wednesday, think global vs think local

  • National initiatives (research, etc), good research here,

  • necessity mothers invention - less gummerment, more 'stress'

  • find ways to integrate based on good old fashioned local proximity.

  • startup spaces, live-work

  • commercial waste policies./ recycling

  • GorePark attraction vs King Street Rush

  • CityJoe list of infrastructure problems

  • higher welfare payments, less gummerment

Comment edited by bobinnes on 2010-11-15 10:58:22

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2010 at 15:55:08

To Pxtl:
One of my friends works in the King/Main/Dundurn area.

Nearly every time there is a severe electrical storm, (or sometimes a heavy snow storm) the power goes out in the store, usually for the rest of the business day. No lights, no A.C. (or heat) & no computers which means that they are running tills & keeping manual totals on them (or trying to) for an entire business day. Many customers left because there was no way to pay with credit or debit cards. Sometimes lightning will also cut phone service for shorter periods.

Often the traffic lights are none functioning too, which makes thing very dangerous at several busy intersections, Main, King & Dundurn being some of the busiest in the City.

Things were not as bad this year, because the weather was good. They had only 2 long power-outs.

Last year & the year before with the many severe storms, they had about 4 or 5 long term power outs over the course of each year during electrical storms. You might not consider that 'a lot' but if you are loosing most of a day's sales, it's 'a lot'.

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